Saturday, August 30, 2008

Keep the red and green flag flying

My parents were card carrying members of the NZ Labour Party; Michael Joseph Savage was their hero. Eventually mum and dad both reached the status of Life Members of the Party. Here they are proudly pictured with another of their heroes: Prime Minister Helen Clark.

I feel much the same way. I'm certainly hoping for a Labour/Green coalition government after the election is held later this year.

I had a terrible nightmare last night. I dreamed it was the day after the election and the right wing had won. John Key was going to be the PM. I was so shocked I felt physically sick. I woke up in a cold sweat, and found that the Tabby was nestled up next to me. She woke with a start too, and vomited all over the bed.

Even the cat votes Labour.

Here I give thanks to Rilke

Letters to a Young Poet (Rainer Maria Rilke)

From Letter One
Paris February 17, 1903

Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple "I must," then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Palming Off

Twice-baked goat's cheese souffle with roasted beetroot and parsnip

Had lunch today at another of my favourite restaurants - PALMS. As we arrived the waiter was putting a potted palm outside the front door. It looked lush, oily and green (much like the avocado dish I was served later!)

Haha. A palm at Palms. It figures. But it looked suspiciously plastic. Or was it just such a perfect specimen, that it seemed artificial? I've had this problem before. False plants are so clever now. So realistic. I've seen fake potplants before, that have little flaws, that make them seem more realistic.

But is it really more 'real' to have a flaw? Or 'fake' to not have one?

The jury remained out, and the palm did too. Our little group traipsed inside and we were seated in a marvellous spot by the window with a great outlook onto the Queen's Gardens on a beautiful Dunedin day.

Next to us was another palm, and the discussion began again, about whether it was real. "I should think it is real," said one of our party. "It has leaf curl!"

We were pretty sure that a manufacturer would not go as far as imitating a bad case of leaf curl just to pass off a pretend plant as the real thing.

Schroedinger was glad we had a real plant, even if it wasn't perfect. He said "You can tell fake people by their perfection too. Real people have flaws."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Signs of Spring

Every year, Daffodil Day arrives as a powerful boost for awareness of and fundraising for, the Cancer Society of New Zealand.

This year Daffodil Day is Friday the 29th of August.

I'm wearing my daffodil on my chest already, as proudly as I wear my heart on my sleeve.

I'll never forget how amazing the people from the cancer society were, when I was supporting someone with terminal cancer. They were like angels.

But the Cancer Society is so much more than being there when things are looking hopeless. That's just why I love them.

I bet you they save lots of lives too!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


My favourite restaurant - where I just dined recently as a birthday treat - placed as runner up in the "Casual Dining, Metropolitan" category of the Cuisine Restaurant of the Year Awards.

Plato opened in 2003, but it took us a year or so before we discovered it. We knew it was there, and we had noted the name, but didn't realise it was a restaurant. It's located next to a busy road, in amongst wharves and warehouses, next to the harbour, almost right under an overpass and overhead walkways.

We used to drive past it and wonder what it was, joking that it might be some sort of private club for retired philosophers, and perhaps a dodgy one at that. The building is a strangely utilitarian one; it used to be a hostel for seamen.

And then one day the chef was interviewed on Kim Hill's Saturday morning radio show. Kim was full of praise for the meal she had there on a visit to Dunedin, and it was only a matter of time before we checked it out.

Judges praised Plato for its "generous, honest and simple food", saying local seafood was a particular strength. Here's the item from our local newspaper.

My favourite dish is their muttonbird special; my favourite dessert the liquorice and five spice ice cream with rhubarb compote and cherry and almond florentine.

The ambience is great - including a quirky collection of ornamental salt and pepper shakers.

And no snooty staff here, genuine friendly and helpful.

Well done Plato!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008





Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Q is for Quake

NZ Post has this month issued a set of 26 postage stamps - The A to Z of New Zealand - so we can take a "T is for Tiki" tour of New Zealand culture.

As an earthquake connoisseur, "Q is for Quake" has to be my favourite; I do so love living in "the shaky isles."

And I am very proud of New Zealand's staunch nuclear free policy, so this one is a must-have:
There are two other stamps in this series that I will be making sure I buy, because, as for so many Kiwis, the fantail and the Southern Cross are so much a part of my own personal iconography.

But who on earth writes an old-fashioned letter these days? I consciously try to remember to get pen and paper out every now and then, and just pour the words down longhand. It's so much more inspiring and personal a way to write to someone, than email (let alone txt), and I'm sure that in the relative leisure of a handwritten message, there is less opportunity for those dreadful misunderstandings that can arise from online communication.

A year or two ago an old friend and I wrote to each other once a week in that 'snail mail' way; it seemed a subversive act, one we both delighted in, and that pushed us to express, reminisce, and to relate to each other candidly and at length. We kept the habit up for about a year before our enthusiasm waned. I really miss the excitement of receiving the post-marked envelope with its familiar elegantly scripted writing.

Before I forget how to use a pen, I must dig out the letter-paper and scribe an epistle, and put a meaningful stamp on the envelope! Not one of those clinical machine-printed postage labels, but a real stamp, bearing whichever letter of the alphabet that takes my fancy.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Daffodil Babies

I love birthdays and today we have two of them in the family. Mine, and my daughter's. She is the most wonderful birthday present I ever received! I did have to work rather hard the day she was born... but all the labour was worth it, and we are still very close - she just lives five minutes away by car.

This snapshot is from a clan gathering in the 1980s:

Sharing a birthday with an immediate member of the family is a little tricky; after all you each want to get your money's worth out of all the good will and feasting, so most years we have solved the double-booking by having two separate birthday parties - one in the middle of the day and the other in the evening.

We've already had a pleasant celebration brunch at her place today, and tonight I'm being taken out to Plato, my favourite Dunedin restaurant, for a slap-up meal.

The floral theme for the mother/daughter August birthday, is daffodils. We were both born in Auckland, which has a far more temperate climate than Dunedin's one, and in mid-August in the North, the spring flowers are well underway in the gardens.

Today in Dunedin it's icy cold and raining, with snow on the hills and more in the forecast. In the garden there are a few brave daffodils just peeking out through closed green blinds to see what the day is like, but we have to go to a florist to get a bunch of full-blown daffodil-smelling daffodils.

The sign of coming spring that is strong and beautiful today in Dunedin, is the early plum bossom that is gracing the whole city. Especially beautiful is the row of trees on either side of Wycolla Avenue, in St Clair.

I still have a voicemail recording from last year, of my mother and my father wishing me a happy birthday. We did all spend time together later that day, but it was always their habit to ring me first thing on my birthday morning, even if they were going to see me later on. I haven't worked up the courage yet to listen to their cheery greetings, because in the interim they have both died. My first birthday as an orphan. I'm the matriarch now.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Dream Library

The Tabby has had some restless nights this week. She didn't seem to know whether she wanted to creep under the covers on the bed, or to wander around the house, so she did both. Repeatedly. Maybe it was because the temperature dropped to below zero several times and the cold drove her to seek shelter. We've had some hard frosts. One morning the water in her drinking bowl out on the deck was frozen solid. But despite the weather, a cat has nocturnal duties to carry out, so the Tabby emerged from cosy comfort at regular intervals to carry out a patrol of the rest of the house, and of course every time she arrived back, she woke me up.

So I've been dreaming. Or rather, I have been aware that I have been dreaming. Apparently we always dream, but we don't always recall it by the time we are fully awake. I'm much more likely to remember a dream if I'm jolted awake, say by the Tabby leaning her paw on my forehead, or licking my nose, because she wants me to let her under the blankets.

One morning several days ago I had dreamed one of those epic dreams full of adventure. I had a long tale to tell about my dream and what had happened. (The cat had even had a walk-on part.) The drama was set in one of those houses that you sometimes revisit in your dreams, over your whole lifetime - a house that has never existed as far as you know, but that continues to reappear in various forms, and you just know that it's that same dream building you have been in before.

Someone once told me that that the special dream house - where you walk from room to room - is a metaphor for your own psyche.

Anyway I told my dream to the first person who would listen, because let's face it, I'm getting older and my memory is not so good, and I usually do sleep quite soundly, so every remembered dream nowadays seems like a triumph.

Funnily enough, that person had also had an unusually vivid dream, and we compared notes. For some reason, part of his dream had been set in Wellington. But no, he had to qualify that, so he said: "It was Wellington but it wasn't Wellington."

"It was, but it wasn't" - for me that really sums up that simultaneous strangeness and yet familiarity, of dream locations - and sometimes the dream people too. "It was Grandma but it wasn't Grandma."

Yesterday I looked at a blog I have chanced upon in my wanderings, that I like very much, and that I have started looking at regularly. The author, who I don't know at all, had also had an epic dream during the week, and shared it in a fascinating blog entry. The dream was set in a Library. At once stage he says:

"The other strange thing - thinking about it now - was that I’ve been in that dream library before. On other nights. It has its own dream geography, only vaguely related to the real world but which is consistent (kind of) in between dreams. I have a few other dream places like that."

This whole experience has reminded me that dreams are a great resource for a writer. I have only recently resumed my years-ago habit of carrying a writing notebook around with me in case inspiration strikes. It might be a good idea to write any more dreams down before they vanish. Then I can have my own library of dreams.

Early Morning

movement within the house
happens as if on currents of air
drifts out into the green day

consciousness is as sharp as the call of birds

sleep is stirring behind opened eyes
people have secret places they have been in dreams
unknown even to themselves

light is a fine line around the edge of things

the sun waits like a painter
to fill in the details

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Festival Junkie

They seem to come thick and fast lately. I so love my job!
Looking forward to the sessions, hearing the writers (old favourites and new discoveries), discussing matters literary, and catching up with friends, colleagues and fellow blogsters!

Behind every successful woman

is a smug cat sleeping on a pile of laundry that isn't going to be folded any time soon.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Footprints Galore

First there was the "Mystery Moggy's Literary Legacy" - in which the University of Otago's rare books Librarian Donald Kerr discovered on reading a venerable tome more than five centuries old, that there were three inky cat paw prints enhancing the Latin text.

A fine imprimatur on one of the earliest printed books, made by the printer's pussycat.

And then, the great footprint swindle at the Olympics. Shock horror!

On Fox TV they're reeling from the revelation that we had all been taken in by smoke and mirrors and digital trickery, as well as being fooled by a stand-in for one of the key singers onstage at the spectacular opening ceremony. Well, hello hypocrisy! This would not be the first time the hard work was done behind the scenes and a good-looking puppet put out the front to take the credit, would it? Didn't Hollywood invent that sort of thing?

Anyway all this talk about footprints reminded me of one of my favourite things: the Laetoli footprints, in which a few moments that happened more than 3 and a half million years ago, have been frozen in time by a felicitous combination of conditions, including volcanic ash falls. The preserved footprints of what seems to be a small family of an early form of humans, some of the first to walk upright, were discovered in 1976.

There were lots of animal and bird footprints also found at the site. I haven't heard whether there were any pussycat tracks.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

If it's such a good idea...

1000 marchers oppose ratepayer funding of a new stadium

Private companies are dead keen to get their hands on any public New Zealand going concern that is functioning well and can either be run as a cash cow or stripped of its assets, like the Railways, Kiwibank, or ACC, but the absence of any interest from the private sector is noticeable when it comes to actually building up a new community resource.

Opposition to the proposed massively expensive Dunedin Stadium is based on the enormous cost that will be borne by ratepayers, the lack of transparency to the public, the absence of any open access to the real balance sheet, a failure to state the real costs and benefits, and the unlikely prospect of the stadium ever returning any true benefit to any more than a tiny portion of the community. Experience elsewhere around the world shows the likelihood of the stadium sustaining huge cost overruns, and of it becoming an expensive white elephant - if it is ever built - that bankrupts this city.

And meanwhile what's to be done with Carisbrook?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Olympics Free Zone

Now that the gorgeous opening ceremony is over, with its feast of culture, history, opera, music, dance, kites, compasses, lanterns, fireworks, movable type, painting, scrolls, and puppetry, Schroedinger's Tabby is not interested in watching the Olympics.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Did feminism work? Are we there yet?

Several times this week I have encountered an attitude of resentment for the special treatment of women. As if feminism has worked so well, we don't need to work for equality anymore. As if there's something wrong with wanting to focus on "women's issues". As if prizes and incentives for women are somehow unfair to the men excluded from them.

So I wrapped a few things in a virtual red-spotted handkerchief, slung it onto a pole over my shoulder, and went for a short cyber foray into the far reaches of the blogosphere, picking up the clues left by strong and stroppy women everywhere, following the bread crumb trails they left.

Each time I found a feminist blog I looked for another feminist blog that blogger liked to read, and when I found one of those, I looked at one she in turn recommended. Etc. At the end of my journey I was not so far from where I first started.

And my conclusion? We have come a long way baby, but we are not there yet.

A red letter day: 8-8-8

You don't have to be superstitious to enjoy the fact that today is the 8th day of the 8th month of the 8th year of the century. But it helps, and it's anticipated that many thousands of Chinese couples will marry today. 8 is a tremendously lucky number in Chinese culture and of course it's no accident that China chose to launch the Olympics today, at 8.8.8 pm on the 8.8.8.

(OK OK - it's the 9th year of the Century, depending on how you count these things, but let's not have that argument now - you know what I mean - the year number has an 8 in it.)

Having lived in Asia, in a Chinese-influenced culture, I couldn't help being impressed by the predilection for 8 and the horror of the number popularly considered unlucky (the number 4). Many buildings didn't have a 4th floor - they moved from 3a to 3b, to 5. (Which is not unlike the Western custom of trying to avoid a 13th floor.)

Apparently in India many couples have tried to fine tune their baby's birth for 8/8/8.

Of course you don't have to think 8/8/8 is lucky to think it's cool. It is a palindrome (a word or phrase that reads the same backwards as forwards), and it's a rare and special thing for anyone even slightly geekily inclined.

So please have a happy 8/8/8, however you choose to spend it. I will probably watch the grand opening ceremony, because I really like live TV extravaganzas. I can take or leave the actual sporting events. I'd rather read a good book.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Hiroshima Day

A moment's silence for this terrible anniversary.

We should never use this weapon again.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Let it be known that I hate Wikipedia. It's populated by jumped-up trolls who care more about laws and format than truth and justice. Grrr. Said trolls jump out and say "boo" at Little Red Riding Hood as she skips harmlessly by, because skipping is not 'democratic'. But the trolls choose to let the evil clever Wolf slide on past, wearing Grandma's hoodie, because the Wolf has taken the trouble to disguise himself in the relevant protocol while he psychotically stalks his current victim.

It's apparently regarded by Wankerpedia as a no-no to be an actual expert on a subject. Soon I guess they'll have a text-in system, American Idol fashion, so the majority will rule on any particular factoid. If you would rather have Shakespeare born in Chicago than England, text 666 to 9454789...

That reminds me, I need to read The Cult of the Amateur.

So anyway, finding UNCYCLOPEDIA, a spoof site in the wiki style, has been a great pleasure.

Here is their entry on Murphy's Law Application for antigravitatory cats (the diagram above clearly explains the process.) The perpetual motion of the spinning cat is based on two laws - that toast will always fall on the buttered side; and that cats will always land on their feet.

There are several counter theories, mostly based on the impossibility of actually finding a cat that would let you strap a piece of buttered toast to its back. I particularly like the Second theory:

Cats are pandimensional, superintelligent creatures. So, when they think they are in danger, they start to
purr and travel to their original dimension. The reason why the cats stay in this dimension is because here they find enough food and people stupid enough to feed them.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Be Kind Rewind

Saw another festival movie today, Be Kind Rewind, described as "A hundred minutes of sweet natured idiocy."

Hmm. It was a little too sentimental and inane for my liking. (I do like my non-time-paradox movies to be dark and deep and meaningful, and/or satirical and biting.) But it was amiable enough, especially the Ghostbusters 'remake'. And there actually was a message, I think. Something about moving beyond imitation to find your own voice and tell your own story. And there's something in that for all of us.

Probably the most interesting thing for me about Be Kind Rewind is the wacky official web site. Anyone who enters has to be brave enough to be spoofed and messed around, in a good-natured way.

Something today made me think about my favourite movie this year. It was in an earlier festival, and was an engrossing documentary about the type face Helvetica. Yes, I am fascinated by such things. I once wrote a 30,000 word dissertation about the English apostrophe.

The state of television in New Zealand is so bad that I need to go to the movies to see a decent doco.

Demon Tabby?

Or just a really bad case of redeye?

At the midnight hour, the Tabby shows her true colours.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Put Another Blog on the Fire

Oh Nooo! I couldn't access one of my favourite political blogs yesterday. Seems a Blogger spam robot went crazy and ate some of the fine upstanding citizens...

All is well with the online world again today (as far as that is possible), and I can read NO RIGHT TURN to my heart's content.


In the meantime I took advantage of the first fine day in weeks to do my bit for the revolution by delivering left wing political propaganda to hundreds of letterboxes in my neighbourhood.

Message of the day:
Investment in rail networks, good.
Borrowing millions to make more roads for gas guzzling vehicles to travel on, bad.

The Greens summed up the Tory policy to pour billions into roading, even more succinctly:

"Lonely Dinosaur seeks White Elephant."

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Flowerpot Cat

Schroedinger's Tabby has a genius for finding the perfect space.
Today she would like to do her impression of a total lunar eclipse.

Total Eclipse of the Sun Live on the Net

Don't you just love the internet? Much as I wish I could have flown to Greenland, at least I got to watch the eclipse happen on a flat screen near me. Through a telescope, and without having to worry about burning holes in my eyes.

Archived on the NASA web site.

More festival films I liked

IN BRUGES: Dark Irish wit, brilliant, totally enjoyable. This movie is in "a post Pulp Fiction genre: the odd couple/hitmen-on-the-lam redemption comedy". Hilarious, and moving.

36 film directors produce a three minute clip about movie-going. Some of my favourite directors in the mix (I especially admire David Cronenberg and Wim Wenders), and not disappointing at all. As the blurb says, "It's hard to imagine a cinephile who won't have a great time with these idiosyncratic cameos, loving some, being dismayed by others, and spotting the ways in which they coincide (count the blind characters, the bag snatchers and the Fellini references for starters) or differ." What a treat it was, a bit of this and a bit of that. Like an excellent buffet meal in a five star hotel.

TIMECRIMES: Spanish time paradox science fiction, not very deep, but competently told, and it certainly exercised my mind afterwards talking with friends about it. I love time paradox... I love the "uhoh" that inevitably comes just when you think you have solved one of the, um, contradictions... It's like that feeling when you were a kid, trying to get your head around the fact the universe was infinite, and wondering what the edge of it looked like. Oops, no, there isn't an edge of it, if it's infinite! Kind of a mental vertigo.

I debriefed Timecrimes afterwards with a couple I know. He was perfectly content and felt that any paradox had been cleared up and sufficiently explained. No problem. Cut and dried. She and I looked at each other, a little more doubtfully. We weren't so sure that everything was sorted by the end of the movie. We would like to have seen more diagrams.

Friday, August 1, 2008

A glut of marvellous movies

Ah joy - it's time for the Dunedin Film Festival again. So many wonderful features, docos and short films all at once, a smorgasbord I find hard to resist. I open up the timetable at the back of the book and work through, trying to plot a do-able schedule. Here are my highlights so far:

Vincent Ward's Rain of the Children - a return to form for this gifted New Zealand director

State of Siege (1978) and In Spring One Plants Alone (1981) heralded the arrival of a startling new talent with uncompromising standards, heaps of energy and a determination to translate his singular vision onto the screen. I can remember the awe I felt in seeing those early Vincent Ward movies and it was deeply satisfying to watch Rain of the Children, not so much a 'remake' as a revisit, a rediscovery, of In Spring One Plants Alone. An absolute must-see for NZ film fans. Moving, beautifully filmed, and so much to tell us about our history and our present times.
Yung Chang, Canada 2007

"Chinese Canadian Yung Chang’s documentary observes life on the soon-to-be-flooded banks of the Yangtze from aboard a cruise ship taking English-speaking tourists up the river."
"An astonishing documentary of culture clash and the erasure of history amid China’s economic miracle." — Stephen Holden, NY Times."
An incredible documentary, on a vast scale, of change happening to a vast river and a vast country. I think I'll go to see it again while I have the chance to see it on a big screen at the Regent theatre.